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Recordings

Gaetano Donizetti: Don Pasquale
04 Jul 2007

DONIZETTI: Don Pasquale

An ingenious and handsome staging, in the proper period and full of delicious color, fashion and furnishings, a production that honors the compatibility of tradition with good fun, and four singers who look their parts, play the farce, and are as easy on the ears as on the eyes — what more could you want from a Don Pasquale?

Gaetano Donizetti: Don Pasquale

Ferruccio Furlanetto, Nuccia Focile, Gregory Kunde, Lucio Gallo, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Riccardo Muti (cond.). Production by Stefano Vizioli. Directed for TV and video by Patrizia Carmine.

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Item: Pasquale’s handsome wood-paneled library folds into a box — to be trundled on and off at will. But on the side of the box is a grand baroque window to overlook the garden serenade of the last scene, and that ornamental window looks suspiciously like a jowly old man with bald pate, bulging eyes, pork nose and gaping, furious mouth — a pun on an ornamental style and on the story of the piece.

Item: Part one concludes with “Sofronia,” fresh from her convent and dressed in demure gray gown, bonnet and veil, usurping control of her new “husband’s” home; Part two then begins with the remodeled home full of rushing servants under the cold stare of that severe veiled figure — but it’s a trick; it’s only the costume on a dressmaker’s dummy, soon replaced by “Sofronia” herself in rather gayer attire.

Item: As “Sofronia,” now Norina, sings her last delicious waltz, a befuddled Pasquale sits alone, sadly isolated with “Sofronia’s” twinkling shawl — but Norina, with a kiss, and Ernesto, with an embracing arm, coax him to accept his defeat.

In short, the director’s “business” and the designers’ jokes take delicious advantage of opportunities found in the ancient story itself, but never push them beyond the bounds of wit or taste.

Ferruccio Furlanetto is the unsophisticated old rogue who learns a lesson; he sounds woolly and day-dreamy and fine, playing the unsophisticated aspirant roué who is in fact too shy to speak to a strange girl, though his delivery of the patter could be quicker. Nuccia Focile, whose soprano is gratefully, sensuously darker than the chirp of such classic Norinas as Grist and Sciutti, has no problem with the coloratura of “So anch’io la virtu magica,” but comes into her own in “Tornami a dir.” Her slimness and agility and very Italian features don’t hurt, and in her talent and vocal quality and care for the style she is, I think, the best candidate among young Italian sopranos for the mantle of Mirella Freni. Gregory Kunde gives Ernesto’s music an endearing bloom with fine arching phrases, and he makes a stalwart figure — for once our tenor is not a cipher. Lucio Gallo connives but does not distract as the doctor, whose plot is — well — the plot of the opera. Riccardo Muti, famous for following the score to the letter, seems to have noticed that Donizetti intended his last comic opera to sparkle; sparkle it does.

John Yohalem

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